The big bats of the Minnesota Twins delivered in their usual fashion as a pair of home runs off of Cleveland starter Aaron Civale proved to be the difference in a 3-2 final from Progressive Field on Monday night.
Home runs were the story for both clubs through the first two-thirds of the game as Civale and Kenta Maeda locked into a pitchers’ duel. Both pitchers were coming off of their best outings of the season – Civale allowed a run in a complete game win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, while Maeda carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Civale had to do some work to get through the first frame. Max Kepler started the game with a single to left. A fly out by Jorge Polanco and a strikeout swinging by Nelson Cruz had the inning standing in Civale’s favor, but an error by Mike Freeman on a fly ball to left allowed Eddie Rosario to reach safely, putting runners on the corners. With the dangerous bat of Miguel Sano at the plate, Civale got the slugger swinging on a cutter low and away to leave two big runners on base.
It turned out to be just one of two at bats for the Twins on the night with runners in scoring position, but the Twins would find a way to work around that dilemma.
Hits came more easily for the Tribe against Maeda, who had limited opposing hitters to just four hits per nine innings coming into the night. The first batter of the home half made sure there was to be no shutout or no-hitter in Maeda’s evening plans, as for the second straight ball game, Cesar Hernandez started up the Tribe’s offense with a solo homer to left to give the Indians an early lead.
Civale retired the side in order in the second and third innings, while Maeda dealt with some traffic. Tyler Naquin singled to start the second but was later thrown out trying to steal second base. In the third, Hernandez doubled with one down, but Jose Ramirez struck out swinging for the second out. Francisco Lindor joined his keystone partner on base with a base on balls, but Carlos Santana struck out swinging to end the inning.
The pesky Cruz put the Twins on the board to open the fourth. He caught a 1-2 sinker up and belted it the opposite way and gone to right. His eleventh homer of the season tied the game at one.
Maeda once again contained the Tribe despite more men standing on base. After back-to-back strikeouts to open the inning, Maeda gave up a single to left to Freeman. Roberto Perez reached on a fielding error at short by Polanco to put two on, but Greg Allen grounded sharply to Sano to strand a pair.
Civale got some help from right fielder Naquin to keep the game tied in the fifth. Luis Arraez kicked off the inning with a single to left. Alex Avila struck out and Kepler flied to left before Polanco drove a 2-2 pitch into the corner. Naquin played the ball well off of the wall and threw in to the cutoff men. Santana fielded and fired to the plate, where Perez slapped the tag on Arraez to cut down the runner at the plate, keeping it a 1-1 game.
After flirting with trouble in the previous two innings, Civale was unable to stop the Twins in the sixth. Cruz flied to right before Rosario doubled high off of the wall in center. Two pitches later, Sano strong-armed a cutter that got too much of the plate, parking it over the wall in right for a two-run shot, putting Minnesota up, 3-1.
Maeda retired the side in order in the fifth and turned the game over to the bullpen as Caleb Thielbar came on for manager Rocco Baldelli. Santana led things off with his second hit of the night, singling deep to left. Thielbar bounced back and struck out both Franmil Reyes and Naquin swinging before pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow dropped in a single to left to put two on with two outs. With a chance to cut into the deficit or tie the game up, Perez struck out swinging.
Oliver Perez used a double play ball to prevent a Kepler one-out single from causing harm in the seventh as the first man on in relief of Civale before the Tribe bats put together a mini-rally off of reliever Trevor May. Allen pulled a single to right before a lineout by Hernandez and a strikeout by Ramirez. Lindor kept the inning alive with a single to left to put the tying runs on base for Santana. He delivered with his third hit of the day, singling to center to score Allen, making it a 3-2 game. With a chance again to drive in runs, Reyes was cut down as May went high-low on him to end the inning.
James Karinchak fired a perfect eighth, striking out Cruz and Sano to open and close the frame. Sergio Romo was tagged for a leadoff double to the base of the wall in right-center by Naquin, but he got the next three before jawing with some members of the Tribe bench.
Nick Wittgren came on to keep the deficit at one in the top of the ninth for Cleveland and did just that, getting a ground out and two outs in the air to send the Tribe bats back to the plate for one last chance. The top of the order was due for Twins closer Taylor Rogers, who got Hernandez on a check swing called third strike for the first out. Ramirez popped up a 1-0 pitch to second for the second out. Lindor kept hopes alive with a flare into shallow right-center for a two-out single to bring Santana to the plate. He lofted an easy fly ball to right, where Kepler secured the victory and Rogers’ seventh save of the year.
The Twins improved to 20-10 on the season and moved back above the .500 mark on the road at 8-7. They have now won four in a row against the Indians this season while limiting them to just six runs over the five games. Cleveland dropped to 17-12 on the season and just 7-7 at home.
Civale had the strikeout pitch working for him again on Monday, but he had to contend with the long ball and some solid contact by the Twins lineup. He did give the Indians another quality start, but as has often been the case in his brief career, he was denied run support by his teammates.
“Civale did his job, kept us in the game,” said interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. after the game. “Just happened to make two mistakes – the fastball that came back on Cruz, and the fastball to Sano. Those were the two mistakes that he made.”
Civale was charged with three runs on seven hits, walking one batter and striking out eight Twins in his six quality innings.
Maeda, making his first start since his near no-no his last time out, was only able to give the Twins five innings and got the hook after 83 pitches, in line with his early season work under Baldelli. He allowed a run on five hits with a walk and seven strikeouts.
Twins pitching kept the Indians lineup off of the scoreboard despite opportunities all game long. Cleveland was 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded eleven runners on base despite tallying 12 hits. Indians hitters struck out 14 times on the night and drew just one walk.
“There was a lot of traffic out there. We left a lot of guys on base,” said Alomar Jr. “Unfortunately, we had eleven or twelve hits and couldn’t get it done.”
Hernandez became the first player in Indians history to hit leadoff home runs in back-to-back games. Hernandez, Lindor, and Naquin each had two-hit games for Cleveland. Santana led the way with three hits for the Tribe, falling short in the ninth to play the hero.
“Cesar is one of those guys, I’ve said it before, he’ll give you a lot of professional at bats,” said Alomar Jr. “He’ll go deep into counts. He’ll make the pitcher work. That’s one of the things I like about Cesar. Now, he’s putting barrel on ball.”
The big blows for the Twins came from the usual suspects Cruz and Sano. Cruz tied the game with his opposite field blast in the fourth and Sano came through with his sixth, a two-run shot the same direction in the sixth.
“It was a cutter. It was a bad location,” said Civale of the homer to Sano. “I know where I can and can’t throw my cutter and that’s one of the spots I shouldn’t be throwing it. Gotta tip my cap, he hit it well.”
The Indians once again played without manager Terry Francona, who will miss another series while recovering from a procedure intended to address ongoing gastrointestinal issues.
Game two of the three-game series in Cleveland is scheduled for a 7:10 PM ET start on Tuesday. Shane Bieber (5-0, 1.11 ERA) will be the first to the bump for the Tribe, looking to stay perfect on the season. Left-hander Rich Hill (1-1, 4.70 ERA) will make his third start of the season for the Twins and his second since coming off of the injured list last week.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images